Theory, policy and practice perspectives from Royal Holloway

Campaigning for an Urban Sustainability Goal

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London Skyline. Credit: Katie Willis

Goal 11 of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is ‘Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’. David Simon, Director of Mistra Urban Futures (MUF), based at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg on secondment from RHUL Geography,  was actively engaged in the campaign for the inclusion of a specifically urban SDG. As part of the process, he hosted two key Campaign workshops, at RHUL in August 2014 and at Chalmers in June 2015, bringing participants from diverse member organisations and backgrounds together to define and refine the targets and respective indicators for inclusion in what has become Goal 11.
Urban areas worldwide are extremely heterogeneous and it was essential to minimise the number of separate targets and respective indicators while still capturing essential dimensions of urbanity relevant to human development. Prior to their finalisation it became essential to test the draft targets and indicators on the ground. To this end, David won grants from the Mistra Foundation and Sida, enabling him to initiate and lead a unique comparative pilot project. The task was undertaken through co-production between researchers and local authority officials in five diverse cities in Africa, Asia and Europe, thus straddling traditional geopolitical divides. This was symbolically important since the SDGs, unlike their MDG predecessors, will apply to all countries. The project took advantage of MUF’s distinctive structure, working through its transdisciplinary co-production research platforms in Cape Town, Gothenburg, Greater Manchester and Kisumu. Bangalore was added to include a multi-million city in Asia. The local authorities in each city faced problems in providing all the data required, while they proposed various changes in order to maximise the local relevance of particular targets and indicators. This ‘reality check’ provided invaluable inputs to the process of finalising the urban SDG prior to the formal announcement of the entire SDG set by the UN Secretary-General in late September 2015.


Blantyre, Malawi. Credit: Katie Willis

The final report and five individual city reports are available at  and two papers based on the project are in press in Environment and Urbanization and the African Geographical Review, while David’s blog post on the findings is on the CityScope and Mistra Urban Futures websites. David and his lead researcher led a session on this project with the Mayor of Gothenburg and Deputy City Manager of Kisumu at the Sida pavilion during the Almedalen political week in Visby, Gotland, in early July. He also presented the work as part of a symposium on ‘Sustainable Urbanisation and the African City: Challenges, Opportunities and Measuring Progress’ at PRIO (Peace Research Institute Oslo) on 10th October.


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